The performers shine in large-group song-and-dance numbers, such as "Gaston" and "Be Our Guest."

NORTH CANTON  The North Canton Playhouse's new youth production of "Beauty and the Beast" is an ambitious undertaking and a lot of fun.

The weeks of hard work put in by director Debbie Cardy, choreographer Molly Weidig and the more than 40 kids onstage is evident. Most of the actors are between the ages of 14 to 18, though there are some children as young as 8.

The performers shine in large-group song-and-dance numbers, such as "Gaston" and "Be Our Guest," that are entertaining to watch. The production is the full-length version and performed to a soundtrack, and the young performers conquered those challenges with enthusiasm.

Meagan Schlabach, who plays Belle, has performed in 17 shows at the Playhouse. She looks the part, and her strong voice is showcased best during "Home," a ballad that requires varying dynamics and lots of emotional commitment.

Justin James Ollis, 19, plays the Beast. He displays the right amount of gruffness and anger in his initial appearances, and his performance of "If I Can't Love Her," which closes the first act, is excellent. Ollis also designed the makeup for the production, including the impressive fangs and nose he wears for most of the show.

Both of the leads struggled with their acting a bit in terms of consistency and depth of character on opening night — something I expect will improve as they become more comfortable during the long run of the musical.

The real standouts for me were the characters Belle meets in the castle. Mary Grace Bentivegna (Babette), Ashley Burtscher (Madame de la Grande Bouche), Miranda Derbyshire (Mrs. Potts), Isaac Rucker (Lumiere), and Benjamin Wykoff (Cogsworth) were funny and believable, and their harmonies on "Human Again" were spot-on. Derbyshire's rendition of title song "Beauty and the Beast" was the prettiest singing of the night.

I also enjoyed the interactions between Gaston and LeFou, played by Kevin Ruppert and Jackson Clarke. They made the most of the goofy moments, and Ruppert turned appropriately sinister when leading "The Mob Song" ("kill the beast") number. 

The set is minimal but aided by the help of a video screen backdrop that transitions between the village, the forest and the castle.

If you plan to see the show, get there early: The North Canton Playhouse uses a lecture hall with a stage at Hoover High School for its performances, so seating is at long desks and general admission. I arrived a few minutes before the doors to the theater opened for the sold-out performance and was stuck at the back of long line and had to hunt a little to find a spot for just me. There's some pre-show entertainment provided, and the lobby has a French market set up where guests can buy snacks and trinkets.

The show runs about two hours and 45 minutes including an intermission.

"Beauty and the Beast" plays through Aug. 13 with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets, $15, may be ordered at 330-494-1613 and

Reach Alison at 330-580-8312 or

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